"It's not true," says a character in Jane Smiley's funny, passionate, and brilliant new novel of horse racing, "that anything can happen at the racetrack," but many astonishing and affecting things do -- and in Horse Heaven, we find them woven into a marvelous tapestry of joy and love, chicanery, folly, greed, and derring-do.
Haunting, exquisite Rosalind Maybrick, wife of a billionaire owner, one day can't quite decide what it is she wants, and discovers too late that her whole life is transformed . . . Twenty-year-old Tiffany Morse, stuck in her job at Wal-Mart, prays, "Please make something happen here . . . This time, I mean it," and something does . . . Farley, a good trainer in a bad slump; Buddy, a ruthless trainer who can't seem to lose even though he knows that his personal salvation depends upon it; Roberto, an apprentice jockey who has "the hands" but is growing too big for his dream career with every passing day; Leo the gambler and his earnest son, Jesse, who understands everything about his father's "system" except why it doesn't work; Elizabeth, the sixty-two-year-old theorist of sex and animal communication, and her best friend, Joy, the mare manager at the ranch at the center of the universe--all are woven together by the horses that pass among them: two colts and two fillies who begin with the promise of talent and breeding, and now might or might not achieve stardom.
There are the geldings -- Justa Bob, the plain brown horse who always wins by a nose, a lovable claimer who passes from owner to owner on a heart-wrenching journey down from the winner's circle; and the beautiful Mr. T., raced in France and rescued in Texas, who is discovered to have some unusual and amazing talents.
And then there is the Jack Russell terrier, Eileen, a dog with real convictions -- and the will to implement them.
The strange, compelling, sparkling, and mysterious universe of horse racing that has fascinated generations of punters and robber barons, horse-lovers and wits, has never before been depicted with such verve and originality, such tenderness, such clarity, and, above all, such sheer exuberance.
On the second Sunday morning in November, the day after the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park (which he did not get to this year, because the trek to the West Coast seemed a long one from Westchester County and he didn't have a runner, had never had a runner, how could this possibly be his fault, hadn't he spent millions breeding, training, and running horses? Wasn't it time he had a runner in the Breeders' Cup or got out of the game altogether, one or the other?), Alexander P. Maybrick arose from his marriage bed at 6:00 a.m., put on his robe and slippers, and exited the master suite he shared with his wife, Rosalind. On the way to the kitchen, he passed the library, his office that adjoined the library, the weight room, the guest bathroom, the living room, and the dining room. In every room his wife had laid a Persian carpet of exceptional quality -- his wife had an eye for quality in all things -- and it seemed like every Persian carpet in every ...
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